SMEs and Process Management (BPM)

There is always a lot of discussion amongst BPM analysts as to reasons why many SMEs (around 50-300 strong in employees) don’t use BPM solutions? There are many factors highlighted once you start looking around the web, including:

  • Unaware of BPM
  • Lack of drive for change
  • Lack of funds and or time
  • Scale of the organisations

There is a great post here from Andrew Smith on this subject, looking at the factors above in a little more detail. http://andrewonedegree.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/why-do-so-many-200-300man-sized-organisations-not-have-bpm/

However, in a recent discussion on Twitter and LinkedIN, it seems the root factor is an organisations size. The scale of their processes have a relevant impact on the factors mentioned already, so smaller organisations have a lack of drive for change (regarding BPM) because they really don’t feel they need to improve efficiency. Because of this they may well be unaware of BPM or what BPM type solutions can deliver. So the main factor for process improvement not being addressed in small organisations (SMEs) appears to be one of scale.

If we regard BPM as a discipline, used to improve business processes, then the issue of scale will for sure highlight inefficiencies in business processes. Scale in this case though isn’t just about the size of a process, or the number of collaborators that make up that process, but also the number of items that move through the process.

 

Let’s make do

With smaller businesses the option to “make do” is a compelling one. When you need to correct processes, or deal with issues, small businesses just make do and get on with it. It’s far easier to deal with a small number of issues than thousands, because of this, small businesses are quite happy to operate with inefficient processes in place. To put it bluntly, they get the job done eventually…

But, making do also applies to IT investment, not just processes. For a small business, do they really need to invest heavily in technology, or can they make do with MS Office in the cloud? Can they make do with small off the shelf IT solutions? Can they even make do with not employing a dedicated IT member of staff? The answer is, yes, they can make do.

If SMEs can make do in so many areas of their IT and Business, then they will make do without typical BPM disciplines and software. We have to remember that for small businesses, investment is not only in terms of hard cash, but also in terms of employee’s time. With smaller companies, an individual’s time becomes a high valued commodity, one which often cannot be spent on areas outside the core business, such as helping design more efficient processes or administering software solutions. This in effect has a big impact on the “drive for change”, effectively suffocating drive for change that may arise.

Planning ahead

While making do works to some extent, there are many limitations. The main side effect of making do, is trying to grow a business. If your business starts to grow but your infrastructure (IT and processes) cannot cope or highly inefficient (which may only start to show itself once you have more items in a process, more work to complete or more collaborators), then your back office is really going to start to struggle. All of a sudden process inefficiencies become a real issue and can threaten the whole success of the business.

Making do also won’t help you get ahead of your competition. We have to remember that process efficiencies feed into better services, including customer facing services, which ultimately lead to happier customers, better customer retention and a greater turnover.

The question is then, how can SMEs take advantage of the same BPM type software that larger organisations are able to do? How can they find the investment in time and money terms to enable them to drive change within the organisation for the better?

One answer is to take the plunge, invest heavily and hope that you grow your business to warrant that investment. This is a little risky, but many a business plan has worked in this way. But is there another way?

 

Could SaaS be the answer?

Software as a Service (SaaS) potentially provides SMEs with a way of accessing the same technologies as larger organisations do (in this post we are thinking of process improvement solutions). There are many benefits of cloud computing and SaaS, however, small businesses have to be aware of their industry governance and just how a cloud based solution can work for them. That aside, SaaS could potentially unlock the door to many IT based solutions that typically would not be available to SMEs.

With this in mind though, we must ask ourselves, even with BPM in the cloud, will SMEs need or want traditional BPM?

 

Do SMEs need BPM software

If we mean traditional BPM software (BPMS) then the answer will be no.

The issue with BPM implementations is not only one of accessibility, monetary investment, but also investment in terms of time and how you want to operate your business. Traditional BPM implementations are highly structured and quite bureaucratic in their nature; they require a lot of time and effort from management, key stake holders and end users.

So traditional BPM is still a no go for SMEs, but process improvement is still a requirement. So what other options are there for SMEs regarding process efficiency?

Well the best option appears to be one that is less structured than BPM, a solution that allows processes to be detected, then analysed, reviewed and refined to drive process efficiency. This means SMEs are far more suited to Case Management type solutions and APG (Adaptive Process Guidance) based implementations. (Many will argue that these are BPM solutions, but they do operate differently to the typical BPM software or BPM the discipline, which you can find defined here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_process_management)

Such solutions are far more flexible and will allow many more processes to be incorporated, without a massive investment in terms of process design and other areas associated with typical BPM.

Case Management gives SMEs a step into process management and requires far less investment in terms of process design time than typical BPMS implementations. However, Case Management can fall short on structured processes. This is where APG can step in. APG is supposed to deal with unstructured and structured processes, providing organisations with the capabilities to manage highly structured, high volume processes (typical BPM territory) and highly unstructured, flexible working processes (typical Case management territory). APG is quite an exciting term and could well be the best route for SMEs to manage their processes if and when it starts to take hold in the BPM marketplace.

 

Conclusion

SMEs can benefit greatly from process management; however, traditional BPM will not be what SMEs are looking for (majority of), because of two main reasons:

1)      There is a big overhead in terms of investment in time, effort and money

2)      Traditional BPM is too rigid for many processes within the organisation

The second point is illustrated far more within smaller organisations. If SMEs are to invest in processes and software, then the software they choose needs to be able to adapt and be flexible to all their process needs, not just those that are highly structured with highly repeatable tasks.

These two points identify that Case Management and APG (Adaptive Process Guidance) are far better options for SMEs when trying to take control of their processes, plan ahead for the future and get a jump on their competition.

With the option of “cloud computing” and more importantly SaaS (Software as a Service), the “second barrier to entry”, if you like, is almost removed. All of a sudden, SMEs have the option to invest in APG or Case Management and take hold of business processes, something that only the larger organisations have been able to do in the past.

So will we see more SMEs turning to process management solutions in the future? The answer has to be a Yes.

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